Choke-Collared: Chapter One

Quincy Fountainpool, a troubled young gutter bastard, escorts his best friend Falak to the Pit to fetch a stranger he already despises. Dark gaslamp fantasy/romance(???) series.

Chapter Two is here.

Content Warning: violence, graphic discussions/depictions of sexual assault, ugly trauma, my obnoxious dedication to vernacular, toxic cultural mores. And it’ll only get worse from here! Cheers!

“Once we get to the gates, they’re gonna search you,” Quincy explains, acutely aware that he has already said this once this morning, and once yesterday evening, “and they might force you to take off your veil. If there’s an al-Wadi guard there he might intercede on your behalf but otherwise, just do as they say. I’m sorry, Falak, there’s nothing to be done.”

Falak, because she is a treasure for sure, pats the top of his hand and offers him the shaky shadow of her usual smile. Even the pale lightning-shaped scars on her cheeks seem dimmer than they ought. Naturally. They are going to a place where sorcery is useless, and without her sorcery, all Falak has is her smile and her conciliatory demeanor, which are little protection from men truly determined to be vicious.

“It is not as though you are doing these things. You do not need apologize,” she assures in her high, lilting voice, thumb rubbing firm and soothing over his knuckles.

“Don’t be scared,” he says, another repetition. “It’s bad but don’t be scared. I’m with you, Falak, I’ll be with you the whole time. Don’t be scared.”

Falak is never scared of anything. But then, she’s never been to a prison, and no prison here or where she’s from compares to Blazebarrow Prison. If anything could knock a sense of terror into someone, even someone as brave as Falak, it’d be the prison.

He licks his lips, action concealed behind his nose-to-chin filter mask, careful not to slice his tongue open on his fanged bridge. His mouth fills with the acrid taste of sweat and the memory of rust. (The biggest prisoner, back when Quincy was still a child, once put him in his lap and told him that blood was the copper paid a man by the gods. Like he was teaching his son some folksy wisdom or some shit. It’s a nice thought, copper for blood, but in the end it’s all rust, every drop and every vein rusted red.)

Still rubbing his knuckles, Falak turns to look out the window of the cable tram. The sun is nothing but a whisper on the sea, the basalt floods a monotonous stretch of undifferentiated black. Against the reddening sky, the Sentinel is a hole, a great black nothing in the field of stars and clouds. When dawn finally comes, its broad shadow will be cast over the Continentwise side until high noon, a long time to have such a sinisterly massive thing shrouding you. They’ll be long gone by the time dawn comes for the men of Blazebarrow Prison. At least the ones kept where the sun can reach. In the bowels…

Quincy pushes his goggles up and rubs his eyes until the stars blot out every scrap of this sorry scenery. Were it not for Falak, no sum of cash nor mortal threat could’ve gotten him on this side of the Dike. He can’t send Falak alone to Blazebarrow Prison, though. She’s a lady, a sweet girl, too soft by half for this ugly world and the ugly men in it.

(Quincy knows that ugliness very, very well. It leers at him from the little mirror above Falak’s vanity and drives him, like an orca drives a seal, toward things he would rather not recall.)

Falak knows what Blazebarrow Prison looks like. Everyone in the city of Beinchann Fountain does. Even so, she gasps as it comes into view. Quincy doesn’t look. Why bother? The Pit looks the same every day about this time. Lit up like a dockside whorehouse in all its dubious glory, the tram line back to the other side of the Dike loading up for shift change.

“Stars,” Falak breathes, “it is so much bigger than I had imagined.”

Quincy makes sure his filter mask is on tight and readjusts his goggles. He’ll have to take them off at the checkpoint but for now, they’re firmly in place and he is faceless. Faceless and beneath notice. A nobody with no past and nothing to be held over him, not even the looming silhouette of the Sentinel and the prison at its foothills.

“Is that the boat, Quincy?”

About seventy-five years or so back, there was no Blazebarrow Prison. However, moored off the coast was a prison hulk full of men being shipped to the Continent, waiting for orders to leave. The orders didn’t come in time. The Sentinel must have dreamed something dreadful, for when it erupted, the lava flows were fast. The wardens abandoned ship as the lava hit the water, watched as it kept coming, as it overtook the hulk. Regarding the prisoners, well, there’s a reason the prison is called ‘Blazebarrow,’ and it’s not for love of alliteration, that’s for damn certain. Superstitious prisoners say the shrieking, agonized ghosts of those boiling men are still in the hulk, which is bullshit first off because they exorcise the prison every year for Wintertide. And it’s not like you need ghosts for a place to be haunted, not really.

“Yeah,” he says, near gagging on the humidity in his mask, “yeah, that’s the boat.”

The hulk is still visible behind the towers and new additions, though the lava pushed it pretty far down before it solidified, molten rock and molten steel welded together for all time. Not a lot has changed. There’s that rusted wall, three stories high even with most of it sunk, and the tall cast-iron and razor-wire fence that surrounds the yard. Electric lights festoon the hull of the hulk and the spaces between the towers, swaying on winter’s last wind as it comes slithering from across the great northern ices.

The earthquakes a few months back seem to have knocked down the centerwise tower where they watch for wasteland specters. The lighthouse, on the other hand, the Sentinel’s Daughter, she’s in tip-top shape. All the prison labor that goes into her maintenance, she’d better be. Her light scythes through the belly of the still-clinging night. She’s been going from sundown to sunup for seventy-five years, bright enough that they were able to retire the creaky six hundred year one that was practically falling into the ocean. The crown jewel, so to speak, of the prison. Men have been ground to sausage filling between her clockworks since they erected her.

“Quincy, what men are those?”

Falak points to a procession, twenty or so in number, ragged men being herded toward the prison by armed guards. Massive hounds circle the perimeter, occasionally snapping at a man who moves too sluggishly. Their baying echoes across the floods, louder than the shouted orders from the guards and louder by magnitudes than the squeal of the cable tram.

“New arrivals. Only the guards and visitors get to use the tram.”

It’s precisely twelve miles and four hundred fifty-seven feet from the Dike to the gates of the prison, and out on the floods where, when the sun comes up, there’s no shade. These must not be bad ones, just debtors or petty thieves, since they’re marching at dawn. Really piss someone off, and you get to march at midday. Falak doesn’t say anything, but Quincy knows she disapproves. Apparently in Anab’hadj they are more civilized, that’s what she’s always saying.

Quincy read in a penny dreadful once that in Anab’hadj they cut men’s hands off for stealing. All things equal, he’d take a forced march to scimitar-based amputation. Maybe not what comes after, though.

The tram glides to a stop, grip barely howling at all as it grinds against the cable. Their operator is pretty good. Falak rustles through the shoulder bag she’s brought and produces a shilling, which she slides through a slat in the door of the operator’s cabin. It disappears a second later, snatched into the shadows by two dark, soot-stained fingers. Quincy darts ahead to help Falak onto the platform, and keeps ahold of her hand, in case she starts to catch nerves. He has to keep an eye on her, after all.

A guard in a smart, perfectly pressed uniform ushers them toward a gatehouse and locked checkpoint. Falak goes to the counter and presents the fish-faced clerk behind the grate with the six shilling visitor’s fee. Without looking up, the man opens a drawer and sweeps the coins inside, then goes back to his typewriter.

“State your name, madam.” He’s got a seal’s voice, sharp and high.

“Falak ban Dawud bin Yahya dar Anab’hadj il-Ghayinha.”

It takes the man a second to input the entire thing. Now he looks up, vaguely annoyed at the bother of foreigners with their long and twisty names. Falak isn’t without her capacity for rebellion; though protocol calls for full legal names to be given at checkpoint, she could’ve gotten away with ‘Falak ban Dawud dar Anab’hadj’ and been within the rules. The clerk’s big, marble eyes focus on Quincy.

“And you too, miss.”

Miss—?! His ankles are a bit skinny, but he fought damn hard for this manhood, he’ll be buggered if he lets some seal-barking little speck of a clerk take it from him.

“Quincy Fountainpool,” he snaps, “and I’m no bloody miss, neither.”

“State your purpose.” The clerk ignores him, which, honestly, ought to please Quincy. Mother of the sea, what’s he doing? Drawing attention to himself like this… wasn’t he happy to be faceless? Quincy’s fingers clench on nothing, the palm of his hand frigid and empty without Falak’s there.

“Picking up of a prisoner being released today,” Falak says, hands clasped, smile unmoving in its open pleasantness. Where does she get the emotional fortitude?

“State his name.”

“Vhatair Westyard.”

Another long series of clacks, the scrape of the cartridge against the rough-textured paper. Then, with a ding, it’s all done. He doesn’t need to pay them any more mind, the guard behind the gate knows what to do. His iron key squeals in the salt-corroded lock, and the gate’s hinges roar as the guard swings it open.

“You will consent, madam, sir, to a search, for the safety of yourselves and the faculty,” the guard states.

Quincy goes first. He manages his mask and goggles, but his fingers scrabble on the buckles of his cloak, accomplishing nothing. He didn’t sleep very well last night, after all. The guard scoffs and, knocking back Quincy’s hood, undoes the buckles himself. Quincy goes stock still, eyes on the revolver holstered at the man’s hip. The truncheon on the other side is capped in brass, scuffed from use, and his boots are steel-toed. The guard has rough fingertips that grate across Quincy’s throat. Lazy, catlike pleasure weighs down his leer as he takes Quincy’s cloak, then begins the pat down.

“Oh-ho! What’s all this then, Mr. Fountainpool?” the guard chuckles upon finding the first knife.

Quincy tries to say, ‘oi, who put that there?’ but his voice clacks in his throat. Falak, fussing on the other side of the gate, speaks up on his behalf.

“We live by the resort, sir,” she says, “by the back docks where they unload the coal, sir.”

“Aye, a rough neighborhood to be sure, madam.” The guard’s hands stroke long, harsh lines along Quincy’s sides, thumbs feeling out his hipbones through the clothes. “We’ll hold all these nice and safe for you up here, never fear.”

That’s to be expected. The coldest-hearted old cunt of a warden to ever serve wouldn’t hold it against a man for going armed through the city. Here, though, the only men with power are the guards. Quincy is just another visitor. Faceless, with no past to be held over him, or to protect him. The guards eyes slide over his tattoos like they aren’t there, taking in the shape of him beneath his baggy clothes.

The damn search takes nearly three minutes, though if he’d meant business Quincy’s sure the guard coulda disarmed him in a minute and a half, he wore the bare minimum in anticipation. His thighs itch where they were touched, tattoos squirming like they want to peel off and be away from the weak little coward that just stood there and took it. What choice has he got, though? Falak’s got to get in… The guard hands him back his garments, but all he does is clutch them to his chest like a child as the next guard takes his photograph for prison records.

The guard takes even longer with Falak, of course. Plenty of men love to get a little cheeky with the lads, but most of ‘em prefer ladies, especially beautiful ones like Falak who are soft and broad-hipped under their clothes. Quincy’s world reduces to the breaths hissing through his teeth, the pulse in his ears, and the guard’s hands traveling over Falak’s body. Those fingers dig like claws into her breasts as he passes them. Falak stares straight ahead, smile wooden, fingertips shaking.

She isn’t made to take off her veil, though he slides his hands under it to feel at the column of her neck and cup the back of her skull. This search, more than Quincy’s, is just an excuse. If this has tried the bounds of her self-control, then the glow in her fingers and eyes is too dim to be spotted and it don’t matter anyway. Gods, where does she get the emotional fortitude?

The guard goes through her bag next, upending all the contents onto a steel table with a careless shake. Coins bounce everywhere. He takes twelve shillings from her plain as daylight and winks at her, playful and roguish without a hint of shame. He passes the bag back with the rest of the articles jammed back in. Falak wishes him a wonderful day, sir, which earns her a tip of the hat.

Somehow, she smiles beamingly for her photo. Once he’s sure she’s through, Quincy puts his cloak back on. His fingers are shaking too damn badly to refasten his mask or goggles. Before he can upset himself further, Falak takes his things and puts them in her bag for safekeeping.

“All confiscated articles will be returned to you upon your exit from the facility,” the guard in the photography station says. “Welcome, madam, sir, to Blazebarrow Prison.”

Falak takes his hand this time, and walks close to his side. There’s really no reason to be afraid now, he reasons. They’ve made it past the worst, most invasive part. Still, Falak is only a girl, and she’s just undergone a terrible offense to her modesty. He rubs her knuckles the way she did his, and keeps his shoulders squared. Maybe ladies is like dogs, and if you aren’t nervous, they won’t be either. He ain’t nervous. The worst is over. What else could they possibly do to him? He ain’t nervous.

The guard who escorts them from the checkpoint into the prison itself is missing an eye and most of the matching ear, salt and pepper hair clipped close to his scalp, teeth and gums nearly purple from chewing blueweed. Must be a veteran of the Pit. Quincy wonders what happened to the man that rid this old sod of his ear, how long it took him to die. (Or if maybe he’s still alive in one of the Cloisters, where the lights are on forever and there’s hardly room to sit.) The old man stares at the ‘XII’ tattooed under Quincy’s left eye, the two blood tears next to his other, the single drop at the corner of his mouth.

(He says nothing, though, which cinches it on his having been here a long time. Prison teaches one to keep their silences.)

They walk in continued silence through Administration. Quincy’s heard tell of it, of course, but isn’t quite expecting how clean and well-kept it is. Boots thump most satisfyingly on the polished black tile. The glass shades of the oil lamps are orange, the color of the Blazebarrow guard uniforms, the lights themselves pure and bright, the walls smoothly plastered and not even a touch moldy. It smells good, like boot leather and polish, like men who’ve bathed recently, like paper and ink. It doesn’t even seem like the same place as the yards, the cellblocks, the inside of the Sentinel’s Daughter. Guards laugh and enjoy their post-shift meals, jackets tied around their waists.

They pass an open door, steam rolling past the jam. Quincy peeks in and sees men getting dressed and undressed. Under the chatter, water splashes against tile. They’ve got bloody baths in here?! Hot ones, too! These bitches!

The door the guard takes them to could have stood in any nice establishment in the city. The sitting room beyond is the same. The insult of it all turns Quincy’s cheeks oven-hot. Wood paneling gives it such a homey look, as though they sit in some kind old auntie’s parlor awaiting tea. Two wooden chairs and a low bench, a soothingly dim oil lamp, and lighter tile, these flecked with white quartz veins.

Nobody jumps quite as hard as Quincy when he starts to laugh. It’s a shrill, grating noise, though the amusement is real. This is such a laughably soft place. How can this be the Pit? (The Pit erodes away all weakness, all softness, until only the bones and the blades and the brambles remain. It turns men into animals. Or devils, if they’re the kind of lucky that’s only got legs in a prison cell. How dare this room exist in the same place, how dare, how dare they try to cozy it up and make believe that this place is anything other than a nightmare?)

“Quincy,” Falak hisses in his ear. “Please. It will be over soon.”

What’s with that tone? All he’s doing is laughing. Whatever the case may be, Quincy composes himself and finds something else to focus the jitters on.

Against the far wall is a model of a treadwheel in a glass case. Some fliers pinned to the wall describe its precise specifications and its projected milling capabilities. Fifty men working together, it boasts, to produce not just flour but reformed citizens with a new dedication to industriousness. Quite a stirring bunch of words. No doubt got the warden and the investors very slick in the knickers. All it is, truly, is a new wheel to break men upon.

Awful lot of bother for that. It’s not as though torture is outlawed. Quincy don’t understand men with money any more than he understands how this room and the Cloisters can be a part of the same facility.

Falak’s pretty face wrinkles in distaste again. She must be thinking about the scimitars and the flying hands. After a moment, she humphs, a genteel noise that carries more disdain than some folks can carry with cusses, and takes a seat on the bench, ankles crossed. Quincy’ll be a gods-damned chimney sweep before he sits here, so there’s little to do but pace. Their chaperon, hard to believe, does not in fact conduct any kind old aunties into the homey little parlor for tea. He just glowers at them through his one eye, chewing his blueweed and spitting cobalt juice into a little leather flask tied to his belt.

It’s not thirty seconds before Falak is rooting through her bag. Hunting for the gaoler’s fee, no doubt. Ten pounds sterling, a sterling for every month this Vhatair Westyard has spent in Blazebarrow’s gentle care. Two months into her and Quincy’s official relationship, he came upon her crying at her desk, shillings in piles before her.

“Ah, Quincy, please, forgive me,” she had said, wiping the tears away and smiling in mortification. “It is just, I am getting this money together, but I do not, I, I need ten sterling but after costs, I only have nine shillings leftover every month…”

Well, far be it from him to insist he’s got any inborn sense of justice, but he’d just come to love her and couldn’t abide such a thing. He stole seven sterling of the fee, would’ve stolen more had the Watch not kicked his bloody ribs in for cutting the wrong Continental’s purse. Falak had put her foot down hard after that, but it was enough. She was pleased anyway, and Westyard oughta be, too. Interest compounds for every extra month a prisoner spends awaiting the gaoler’s fee.

What other kind of man does Falak count as her friend? Certainly she’s amiable toward any number of male acquaintances, and most of her occult associates are men as well, but those aren’t… friends, precisely. But if she’s been saving up the gaoler’s fee for this man, if she’s come all the way here to get him, they surely must be friends. What sort is he? Another nebbish scholar? Or something harder, something with a little more bite? If he’s a Westyard, he might be a low sort. A barracuda in her school of herrings.

(Quincy is scouting out the competition. He can tell himself it’s concern for Falak ‘til his face turns purple but he knows. He knows the contents of his soul.)

A nondescript door the same color as the wall paneling opens after what seems an hour. Falak very nearly leaps to her feet. Fortunately for both their dignity, she catches herself. She gathers the sterling in her hand and rises to her feet with easy grace, looking bored in a pleasant sort of way, the way only she can manage.

The gaoler has a new assistant, it seems. This one is no better than any of the others, a bat-faced old man with prominent fake teeth and an over-starched cravat. He somehow manages to look down his nose at Falak, despite being a head shorter than her, and only ‘hem’s in lieu of a proper greeting. The two guards behind him don’t offer even that, and past them, Quincy can’t get a good look at the prisoner. The chains of his manacles clink as he moves.

“Do you confirm on record that the man before you is Vhatair Westyard?” The assistant’s accent is a dock worker’s facsimile of Continental Glasreord, consonants stiffer than his stupid cravat.

“I do,” Falak says, showing some impatience for the first time. She all but thrusts the money in his face.

Still, he takes his time counting it. Quincy circles to their flank, leaving enough distance that the guards won’t be nervous, so he can see Vhatair Westyard. Some men, after a bit in prison, they get tired-looking and frayed, but not this man, his eyes are sharp and alive and contemptuous. He gives Quincy a second’s glance before returning his attention to the men with the guns, not a bad move in his position.

Westyard might have been handsome once, but that day is long past. His face is a mess of badly healed scars and open cuts, a ragged expanse of ruined skin that continues down his neck. One of the scars on his mouth is so bad that his teeth are exposed, shining dully in this dim light. For all his eyes are still bright, the rest of him is haggard, the bags under his eyes more like he got his shit punched in than he’s missed sleep, stubble uneven on his jaw. His ginger hair is shorn close to his scalp, so close that the dull blades have gouged scabs in a few places.

“All appears to be in order, Miss ban Dawud, Mr. Fountainpool,” the gaoler’s assistant says. “By the power vested in me by Warden Cormag O’Leary and Her Serene Grace Queen Euphemia Naomuira, I do hereby release the criminal Vhatair Westyard from bondage and declare his debt paid, his criminality absolved in the eyes of the law and the gods.”

Gag, gag, gag. They fed Quincy an entirely different line of bullshit when he was pardoned, but this one is just as odious. Just clap the damn irons off, my good bitch, we all know you don’t want to be here anymore than any of us. It must be a symptom of having armed men in one’s employ, this love of stretching things out, of pointless ceremony and long-winded speeches.

Whatever the underlying disease, the gaoler’s assistant presents one of the guards with an ornate iron key. The man undoes Westyard’s wrist manacles, then crouches to do the ones around his ankles. His trousers protected his ankles, but his wrists are bleeding and raw. He makes no expression, not even when the gaoler’s assistant shoves him in Falak’s direction.

“Mr. Westyard,” Falak says. Her is voice north wind frigid. “Shall we?”

“I’m about ready, yes, Miss ban Dawud.” His accent says he’s from the shipyard district on the Beaconwise side of the harbor, just as the name suggested, and the growl says that smoking or smog has scabbed the inside of his throat beyond repair.

Their one-eyed guard takes them back through administration. Westyard’s got a strong walk, keeps his chin high and defiant. Quincy peers at his right hand for the cellblock numbers nearly every prisoner gets. B-7, eh? That’s in the seawise tower, the one they built about fifty years back. Not a bad block, as far as these things go, but not one for debtors or habitual drunks, either. Assault, maybe? Machine tampering? Selling drugs or unlicensed women?

(Quincy’s hand got a pretty bad infection when he was three years into his sentence, so he lost the original tattoo. All the same, a man must let others know where he comes from. So nobody would miss it, he had it tattooed under his eye. Cellblock Twelve, in the bowels of the hulk, where dawn never comes and the water seeps in without ceasing.)

Falak is all uptight propriety as she takes back Quincy’s knives. The clerk stamps the exit papers and hands over their copies, and Falak thanks him with ice cold politeness. Once they’re on the cable tram, alone again since shift change has come and gone, all that primness evaporates, her chilly expression boils into open concern.

“Ay, ay, Vhatair,” she all but wails, “you are gone a stone at least…!”

Westyard shrugs. He is looking gaunt, Quincy thinks, though not frail. Still, his hands tremble, fingers twitching, and sharp hunger turns his green eyes poisonous and bright. Who the fuck does he thinks he’s looking at like that?

“You’re not far off. My wallet’s lighter, too. You know what the filthy bastards in there’ll charge for cigarettes?”

“Of course that is what concerns you. Be practical, Vhatair, none of your clothes are going to fit! Ah, speaking of…”

She pulls a rolled-up scarf from her bag, nearly dumping Quincy’s filter mask on the floor. It’s not delicate, it could handle it, but he catches it even so, dolphin fast. Westyard’s gaze is on him, bladed and appraising. Quincy puts his mask back on and looks away while Falak presents the scarf to Westyard.

“The guards would not release to me the old one, they said it was evidence and to be incinerated. I did not have the money to purchase it back for you and I was scared to press the issue. You know how it is with cops, they are all bastards. I am sorry, Vhatair…”

He takes it from her. If Quincy’s not mistaken, his fingers brush hers and he lingers there for a whole fuck of a lot longer than he is entitled. But he pulls away before Quincy can say anything.

“Fuck the old one. This one’s nicer.”

Westyard wraps it around his neck, looking a bit smug considering it’s only a scarf. Falak shakes out an old, black-stained overshirt that was crumpled at the very bottom of the bag, and hands it over for Westyard to put on. Now he is street-worthy and entirely unremarkable. Beaten-up men in shabby clothes are nothing odd Beinchann Fountain.

“So,” Westyard says after getting resettled. “You’re Quincy, are you, lad?”

“I wrote about you,” Falak says before Quincy can demand from where Westyard has pulled his name. “Nothing much, dear, just that you were living with me and such things.”

Well, that’s a little better, Quincy supposes. (It’s not right for him to be angry with Falak for talking about him to this man. He ought to be flattered that she does, and he is, sort of. His brain is flattered but his heart is snarling. Falak is too nice by half for this world and the sorts of men in it.)

“Aye,” he says, when it becomes apparent Westyard is still waiting for input from him. “That’s me.”

“Falak always gushed about you in her letters.”

“Of course,” Falak says. “Quincy is my very favorite.”

Westyard laughs. It’s not an enjoyable laugh, hacking and wet, practically a cough, and it fills the tram car.

“Even more than me, my goldfish?” he asks, readjusting his scarf.

“Quincy is good and sweet.”

That’s a lie. But it’s one Falak either believes, or is in the process of repeating so many times she comes to, and Quincy figures it’d be stupid of him to argue.

“Fickle, aren’t we? The second I was out of the picture you went and found yourself a newer, prettier man to keep you company.”

Falak’s cheeks get dark and she puffs up like a wet pigeon. Quincy is about to intercede on her behalf, hackles well and truly raised, but she waves him down. A little gesture, her fingers crooking twice, but enough to hold him back. They established this gesture very, very early on.

“You are so smart and yet somehow everything you have said is wrong,” she accuses. Westyard’s smug, mean face softens just a touch, mostly around the eyes.

“Aw, Falak, don’t be upset. I’m mussing your veil, lass.”

“The two of you been friends for a while,” Quincy says, like an idiot, for lack of any other way to cut to the point.

“A good bit, yeah, nearly two years before I got arrested. She took you in about eight months ago, as I recall,” Westyard says.

“I am sure,” Falak announces with a clap of her hands, “that, having met now, the two of you will get along most splendidly for certain.”

She’s cheerful, but in such a way that clearly says they’d better figure out how to do what she said. Perhaps seeing he’s being an ass, or, more likely, exhausted from his ordeal, Westyard snorts and closes his eyes. Within moments, he slumps in the seat, asleep. Falak makes this awful, concerned sound like a little girl makes at a crow chick, and uses her bag to prop up Westyard’s head.

Quincy grits his teeth until the rim of his bridge cuts into the roof of his mouth and coats his tongue with rust. It’s all behind his filter mask, though, and he’s gotten his hood up. He says nothing, and lets nothing show on his face, as is his way. Falak is probably very happy to see her friend or whatever. He doesn’t want to spoil it for her.

Westyard duly attended to, Falak puts her hand back on Quincy’s, and leans against his shoulder.

“You were good to help me with this,” she whispers. “My sweet Quincy.”

Quincy forces his hand open and twines his fingers with hers. He swallows the blood and concentrates, very hard, on the up and down motion of her thumb against his knuckles. The cable car shrieks all the way back to the other side of the Dike, an inescapable noise, and the sun casts the shadow of the Sentinel across the prison at his back.

Oh boy I wonder who the love interest in this story is. Is it the sweet, kind-hearted witch or the shit-tier, horrid old jailbird? Hm.

I’ll continue to update the content warnings as things get more intense.

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